Editorial Feature

The Plastics Used in Automotives

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Back in the day, cars were mostly made of steel and over the decades lightweight alternatives have increasingly found their way into automobile designs.

While a car from the 1950s had almost no plastic, the typical automobile today has more than 120 kilograms of plastic. Plastics are a very appealing material for automobiles because their use leads to greater fuel efficiency: It has been determined that every 10 percent drop in vehicle weight equals a 5 percent to 7 percent decrease in fuel usage.

Current economic and ecological concerns make the production of fuel-efficient cars a high priority in the automotive industry. Some other benefits of plastics in vehicles include very little corrosion, extended vehicle life, increased design freedom, greater innovation potential, more versatility in integrating components, greater safety, and greater comfort.

While the typical car includes many different kinds of plastics, three types of plastic – polypropylene, polyurethan, and PVC – are the most common. Below are the types of plastic commonly found in automobiles.


Used in a wide range of applications, polypropylene is a saturated addition polymer produced from propylene. It is durable and unusually resistant to numerous chemical solvents, bases, and acids. Polypropylene is by far the most prevalent plastic in automobiles and it can be found in bumpers, cable insulation an,d carpet fibers.


Having outstanding toughness, flexibility, heat resistance, and abrasion resistance, polyurethane can take on very soft or hard forms. Its exceptional resistance to weather, radiation, and solvents makes it well-suited for everything from tires to suspension bushings to seating.

Polyvinyl Chloride

Comprising about 16 percent of all plastic in the typical vehicle, PVC has excellent flexibility, is flame retardant, has good thermal stability, a high gloss and little to no lead content. Polyvinyl chloride works extremely well in a huge range of auto parts that can be through extrusion, injection molding, compression molding, and blow molding processes. Either stiff or flexible depending on the amount and type of plasticizers used, polyvinyl chloride is used to create instruments panels, electrical cable sheathing, and door parts.

Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene

ABS is created by polymerizing styrene and acrylonitrile in the presence of polybutadiene. The styrene provides the copolymer with a shiny, tough exterior. The rubbery butadiene supplies a resilience down to very low temperatures. A wide variety of adjustments can be made to enhance impact resistance, durability and heat resistance. ABS is used to produce dashboards and wheel covers.

Nylon 6/6

Nylon 6/6 is a general-use nylon that can be used to make parts through both molding and extrusion processes. Nylon 6/6 has excellent mechanical qualities and wear resistance. It is often used when a strong, low-cost rigid and stable material is needed. This plastic is commonly found in cams and weather-proof coatings.


Transparent polystyrene offers superb chemical and electrical resistance, with special high-gloss and high-impact varieties available. This plastic is easy to make but has low resistance to UV light. It is commonly used in equipment housings and displays.


Polyethylene has high impact resilience, low density, and solid durability. It can be used in a range of thermoplastics processing techniques and is significantly useful where moisture resistance and low cost are necessary. PE is used to make glass-reinforce car bodies and electrical insulation.


POM has superb rigidity, yield strength and high stability in cold temperatures. Highly chemical- and fuel-resistant, POM is used to fabricate interior and exterior trims, fuel system parts and small gears.


This plastic provides a distinctive combined rigidity, hardness and durability. It has superb weathering, impact, optical, electrical, and thermal qualities. Due to its remarkable impact strength, it is the go-to material for car bumpers.

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Brett Smith

Written by

Brett Smith

Brett Smith is an American freelance writer with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Buffalo State College and has 8 years of experience working in a professional laboratory.


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